There’s nothing more disappointing than waiting all season, catering to your pepper plants only to harvest two or three measly peppers. If you’ve had this experience, you can try these methods on how to increase your pepper plant yield.
There are several factors that play into pepper plant productivity throughout the growing season, so we’re here to help! With these simple guidelines, your plants will be producing more peppers than ever before. Here are the steps for how to get more peppers per plant.
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Read next: Guide to growing hot peppers.
Steps to Increase Pepper Plant Yield:
- Start your pepper plants indoors
- Use grow lights!
- Use the right soil
- Use a big enough pot (for potted plants)
- Use the right fertilizer
- Prune your plants
- Optimize sunlight, heat and watering
When To Start Pepper Plants Indoors
Depending on where you live in the world, you may need to give your pepper plants an early start to get maximum yields. If you live in hardiness zones 3-7 where the last frost is in April or May, starting plants indoors gives your pepper plants the longer growing season that they need.
Thankfully, starting your seedlings indoors is very easy and cheap, using either a bright sunny window, or ideally a full spectrum grow light. Read about the best grow lights for peppers here.
In short, you should typically plant your pepper seeds indoors in early-mid March, or 6-8 weeks before the last chance of frost. This will extend your growing season and allow pepper plants to fully mature and produce outdoors.
Plants can be transitioned outdoors once the risk of frost has passed (check your last Spring frost date at Almanac.com).
Tip: If you want to encourage bushier plants, you can start seedlings in mid-February and prune the plants in March. Starting peppers really early will allow you to prune your plants to encourage fuller plant growth and better pepper yields.
Use A Grow Light
There are endless options to choose from when buying an indoor grow light. We love the noise-free LED lights that are highly efficient and don’t put off much heat. We also use a clip-on adjustable LED light for adding supplemental light.
Isn’t a sunny window enough? Put simply, no. When your pepper seeds sprout, they need strong light to get a good start. Window sunlight is filtered, and doesn’t last long enough each day, especially in winter. With a grow light, you can provide 16 hours of light every day, avoiding leggy, weak pepper plants from the beginning.
We use this clip-on LED light from Amazon for supplemental light when starting our seeds and when indoor plants are fruiting.
We use this high-output LED light on Amazon for seedlings and larger plants before moving them outdoors. This light is also great for fully indoor grows, from seedling to harvest.
For a more affordable, similar option, check out this more budget-friendly LED unit.
Avoid units that use fans if you can, as they can be very noisy. We also prefer the sun-like full-spectrum lights because they don’t emit aggressive purple and blue tones.
Moving Plants Outside / Hardening Off Plants
Hardening off plants can be a tricky process. Indoors, the new plants are not used to the natural elements, like wind, rain, direct sunlight and changing temperatures. In order to smoothly transition your plants outside, you must do it gradually.
Recommended schedule for transitioning plants outdoors:
- 1st week: 20 minutes of direct sunlight, or 1 hour of shade daily
- 2nd week: 1 hour of direct sunlight, or 3-4 hours of shade daily
- 3rd week: 2 hours of direct sunlight daily, or all day in the shade
- 4th week: Transplant outdoors permanently
Some climates are more forgiving, and others harsher. Keep an eye on your plants, especially during the first few days outdoors. If the plant’s leaves are looking wilted, take them inside right away and wait until tomorrow.
Also, be sure to avoid low nighttime temperatures. Peppers do not want to be outdoors below 50°F.
Using The Best Soil For Pepper Plants
A healthy pepper plant starts with a healthy growing environment. That means using the right soil. If you plan to start your plants indoors, you’ll want to have 2 distinct soils. One for starting seedlings, and one for post-transplant.
Seed Starting Soil
When you start seeds, the soil should be well-aerated and low in nutrients. A pepper seed contains built-in nutrients that help the plant germinate and grow to a certain size. Then, the plants can be moved to more nutrient-rich soil. So the best type of seed starting soil is something like Jiffy Starting Mix on Amazon.
Note: It is important not to start your seeds indoors with soil taken from outside. This can bring in mold, insects and other unwanted organisms. Definitely use a bagged seed starting soil!
When you transplant pepper plants, you ideally want to have a light soil composition (on the loamy side), but most generic potting soil will work fine for potted plants.
If you are planting in the ground, you can work in two or three large bags of soil per 100 square feet to ensure plants have nutrient-rich soil to move into. Ideally, you should also work in some organic material, like compost, every season. This will ensure that your soil is healthy and full of the beneficial microbes that the peppers love.
Tip: If you have a raised bed or garden plot, plant a cover crop to keep the plant and root diversity high.
If you are planning to grow your peppers in a pot, choosing the right pot can make a big difference in the size and output of your plants.
Always pre-moisten soil before lightly packing it into pots. If you are working with a garden bed, you can loosen (not till!) the soil with a garden fork 2 weeks before last frost. This improves aeration and drainage and allows time for the micro-organisms in the soil to recover before planting.
You can also amend your soil for added nutrition. We use blood meal for calcium and epsom salt for magnesium and sulfur. If you have compost, add some to your garden each year before working the soil.
What Is The Best Pot For Pepper Plants?
If you are growing peppers in pots, you may be wondering what the best pot for pepper plants is. The answer is simple: 12-inch pots or larger.
Without enough soil, a pepper plant’s growth will be stunted, and the plant will never reach its full potential size. Pepper plant yields will suffer without at least 3-5 gallons of soil.
We love the Bloem Saturn Planters on Amazon. They have a variety of fun colors and sizes to choose from!
You’ll have to choose the right size planter pot for your specific growing space. There are many options on Amazon for large planter pots. Ultimately, the larger the planter, the larger the root system can grow and the more peppers you can yield.
Tip: When first transplanting your pepper plants, be sure to pre-moisten the potting soil that they will move into so that it will take on water more easily throughout the growing season.
After you have transplanted your plants outdoors, it is time to begin a fertilizing schedule.
Using The Best Fertilizer For Pepper Plants
Peppers need a healthy balance of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium to grow well. When you buy fertilizer, you will often see three bold numbers on the packaging. These correspond to these three elements and their quantities in that particular fertilizer.
How Often to Fertilize Pepper Plants
We begin fertilizing immediately after the peppers germinate at a reduced strength. Don’t fertilize immediately after transplanting. Wait around a week to allow the root system to integrate with the new soil. Then you can re-start your fertilizing regimen.
As a general rule, you should fertilize once every 2 weeks when plants are growing. To keep it simple, we recommend using a higher nitrogen fertilizer while pepper plants are growing rapidly to maximize pepper yields.
Fox Farm makes an excellent trio of fertilizers that help keep fertilizing peppers simple. Use the ‘Grow Big’ during early growth, and switch to ‘Bloom’ or ‘Tiger Bloom’ when the plants begin to flower.
Higher nitrogen encourages strong leafy growth which is essential for a strong, healthy plant.
After plants are full-sized and begin to flower, you should transition to a lower nitrogen fertilizer like a 3-5-5, or a 5-10-10. However, this isn’t completely necessary. You could also reduce the strength of your fertilizer instead.
A lower amount of nitrogen helps increase fruit production instead of an abundance of leafy growth. Most fertilizer brands will label each type of fertilizer with ‘Grow’ or ‘Bloom’ to indicate what stage of growth the fertilizer is meant for.
Note: One of the signs of too much nitrogen is flowers falling off of your pepper plants.
Read more about how we fertilize our pepper plants in our article here.
How To Prune Pepper Plants
Pruning is easy. It involves a sharp pair of scissors and your pepper plants. However, before you start snipping away, first make sure you know where (and why) to prune pepper plants.
The goal when pruning is to direct the energy of the plant to where you want it to grow. For example, you want your pepper plant to focus its growth on producing actual peppers, and not on producing more leaves and branches.
By pruning, we take away some stems and non-essential parts of the pepper plant so that growth is focused where we want it.
Should You Prune Pepper Plants?
Before you start pruning, first determine whether it is necessary. Here are the situations where pruning may be beneficial.
Early plants. If you started your pepper plants extra-early in the winter, you may want to prune once before transitioning outside. This can keep the plants a manageable size while they are indoors, and can encourage a more bushy structure for the long-term.
Tall plants. If your pepper plants are growing tall and lanky, a light pruning can help re-shape them. Lopping off the top of your tall peppers will redirect energy to producing more shoots.
Low branches. One of the best ways to avoid disease in your pepper plants is to keep leaves away from the soil. To do this, prune away any branches that are within 6-8″ from the ground as the plant is growing. This is called bottom pruning and is highly recommended for both peppers and tomatoes.
Overwintering. If you have a pepper plant that you just can’t part with at the end of the season, you can prepare it for overwintering. This involves heavy pruning, leaving just a few leaves on the plant to allow photosynthesis to continue.
Using The Right Tool To Prune Peppers
When pruning your plants, make sure you are using sharp scissors. Do not use your fingers to break the stems, as this can cause you to crush and bruise the stem. A knife can work as well, but make sure it is sharp enough to easily slice through without crushing your stems.
Pruning Young Pepper Plants
On young starter plants, about 3-5 inches tall, you can prune your pepper plants just past the second or third node (this is where new sets of leaves begin). You are stopping the upward growth of the plant by cutting off the top of the plant. This will encourage your young pepper plant to grow outward, and establish a sturdy base.
Read More: Should you pinch off pepper flowers?
Note: Make sure you leave at least 2-3 sets of leaves on your plant. Without leaves, the plant will not be able to photosynthesize!
Pruning Mid-Sized Pepper Plants
Once your pepper plants have transitioned outdoors and have reached about 1 foot tall (still growing), you may want to prune the plants again. At this stage, the goal is to encourage a sturdy stem. If the plants look healthy and are not too tall and thin, you do not need to prune at this stage.
You can also prune away low branches to keep the foliage away from splashing soil.
You can also prune away any early flowers that have bloomed. This will allow the plant to fully develop a healthy canopy before it starts putting energy into producing peppers.
Note: Do not prune growing plants too late in the season. If you prune with only 40 or 50 days left in the season, you may reduce your harvest before the frost arrives.
Pruning Late Pepper Plants
As the season wears on and you begin harvesting, you shouldn’t need to prune your plant during the season. However, as the season draws to an end, and the final frost is approaching, you can do one final pruning to help the plant finish producing its final peppers.
When the first frost of winter is 2-3 weeks away, cut away any branches that do not have any fruits. Leave enough leaves to continue photosynthesis. This will help your final harvest mature before the plants die.
Tip: Read our dedicated article on pruning here for the best guide to pruning pepper plants!
It is worth noting that pruning is not required, but will help stimulate your plant and help increase your pepper plant yield.
Sunlight And Heat Stress For Pepper Plants
Pepper plants require full sunlight throughout the day under ideal conditions. This means 10-12 hours of direct sunlight during the summer months.
These are ideal conditions, but most gardeners can still manage to get plenty of peppers out of 6 hours or even less sunlight. However, the amount of sunlight will directly affect your pepper plant’s yield.
Try to find the best location in your outdoor area to get the most sunlight possible during the day, especially in the morning and mid-day. If you live near trees, moving a plant 10 feet can make a huge difference in how much sunlight it receives!
Avoiding Heat Stress in Plants
Pepper plants prefer an average daytime temperature between 65-85°F. Flowers will often fail to set fruit if daytime temperatures are below 65°F or above 90°F. If you expect a stretch of very hot or cool weather, try to keep your pepper plants happy.
Heat stress can be a gardener’s nightmare. It can cause wilting leaves, lower yields, and generally worse outcomes. However, there are some things you can do, for both indoor and outdoor grows, to help survive a heatwave (90°F or higher).
- Water (a lot)! Plants will consume much more water during a heatwave. Keep plants moist, but don’t over soak.
- Provide temporary shade. Use a beach umbrella or other object to provide your pepper plants some shade during the afternoon hours. Between 12:00-4:00 PM are usually the hottest hours of the day.
- Don’t fertilize or prune during a heatwave. These activities should be put off until the heatwave is over.
- Expose early plants to cold temperatures before moving them outdoors. This is called the “cold treatment” and can help prepare plants for more varied temperatures.
- Keep a thermometer near your plants. Temperatures can vary in different areas of a yard. If your plants happen to be in a heat zone, maybe you should consider moving them if possible.
For the most part, peppers are okay with hot temperatures, but any plant has its limits. Watch for the common signs of heat stress like pepper plants with flowers but no peppers, stunted growth, and wilted leaves.
We hope these pepper gardening tips will help you get better yields from your pepper plants. Share your pictures with us, we love seeing the amazing peppers that people are growing all around the world!